Police in Hong Kong arrested 10 people Thursday for alleged violations of national security laws in connection with a shuttered humanitarian relief fund, including a prominent local Catholic leader.
According to the Hong Kong Free Press newspaper, among the six men and four women arrested Aug 10 was Bobo Yip, a prominent pro-democracy activist and former chairwoman of the Diocese of Hong Kong’s Justice and Peace Commission.
According to HKFP, following her arrest, Yip was taken to a Catholic bookstore in the Yau Ma Tei neighborhood where police gathered evidence and seized two computers.
A statement from Hong Kong’s national security police confirmed the arrests, and said that the 10 detainees are suspected of “conspiring to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” in connection with the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, the same charges and organization which led to the arrest of Hong Kong’s former bishop Cardinal Joseph Zen last year.
If convicted, Yip and the other nine arrestees could face a lengthy jail term, up to life in prison.
The 612 Humanitarian fund was founded in June 2019 with the aim of providing “humanitarian support to all persons who are arrested (regardless of charges), injured or affected” during mass protests following the 2019 bid by the Hong Kong government to pass legislation that would have allowed political detainees to be deported to mainland China to face trial. Months of mass demonstrations led to a police crackdown.
Although the extradition bill was withdrawn, Beijing imposed the sweeping National Security Law on Hong Kong in June 2020, curbing civil liberties and leading to scores of arrests, including prominent local Catholics.
The Catholic publisher and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai has been in the midst of a “marathon” cycle of court hearings and prison terms since 2020, and the government forced the closure of his newspaper, Apple Daily, in 2021.
Cardinal Zen was arrested last year, along with four other former trustees and the former secretary of the 612 Fund.
When he was arrested on May 11, Zen was originally held on national security grounds, including alleged collusion with foreign agents, but he was ultimately charged only with failing to register the humanitarian fund through the proper channels and fined by the court.
The crackdown on civil liberties under the National Security Law has been largely overseen by John Lee Ka-chiu Hong Kong’s chief executive, the city’s highest office. Lee, a Catholic, took office after running as the only candidate in an election last year which saw thousands of riot police deployed to ensure there were no public demonstrations against Lee’s election.
The new chief executive previously served as security minister for Hong Kong, and was responsible for attempting to pass a controversial 2019 extradition law as well as the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which followed.
The current Bishop of Hong Kong, Bishop Stephen Chow, SJ, was installed in December, 2021, after a long process to appoint a successor to the most recent bishop, Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, who died unexpectedly in 2019.
At the time of his installation, Chow said that he had previously attended banned public gatherings in Hong Kong, including a prayer vigil to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which he has called a formative event in his life.
Since taking over the diocese, Chow has often sought to balance the conflicting political currents within the local Catholic community, and tensions with the government.
In an interview last year, Chow acknowledged increasing government restrictions on free speech and the effects they could have on the freedom of the Church, but the bishop also noted that “culture can be subversive” and touted the importance of the Church’s education mission and work in schools as long-term agents of social change.
In May of this year, following a five day visit to the mainland, the Hong Kong bishop wrote that “loving our country means the dignity of its people should come first,” and acknowledged tensions in the Church’s relationship with the local government in Hong Kong and mainland authorities.